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"Oh, you work for NPR?": The Vagaries of Public Radio Employment

Being a journalist is the kind of job where, when you tell people what you do for a living, they usually either think it's really cool, or that you're a worthless piece of lowlife, soul-sucking scum.

Just the way it is.

When I get into the details of where, exactly, I am employed, that's when things get confusing. Here in Phoenix, people hear my work on the airwaves of Fronteras Desk member station KJZZ, so that's usually how I go about explaining my job. People who don't hate journalists often have a reaction along these lines:


"Oh, I love NPR!"

That's nice, but I don't work for NPR.

Part of the confusion comes from the fact that my employment status itself is a little confusing. I report for the Fronteras Desk project, based at NPR member station KJZZ in Phoenix -- KJZZ is one of the stations that leads the Fronteras Desk. I also report local stories that are only for KJZZ. And a significant portion of KJZZ's on-air content is comprised of NPR shows. (Not a surprise, since we're an affiliate station.)

Some of the confusion also stems from station folks doing a good job. We want our on-air sound to be seamless -- so even though we run live and prerecorded shows from NPR, as well as American Public Media, Public Radio International, and BBC, we strive for the on-air sound to be uniform, to make sure that going from local content to national content and back isn't jarring. Which means that because we usually do an excellent job of that, some people don't quite get that Steve Inskeep and Renee Montagne are not sitting in Phoenix each morning delivering the news.

It used to annoy me when people didn't understand that the network, NPR, does not own the station, KJZZ, or the project, Fronteras. I tried to correct people -- and, as concisely as possible, explain for whom I actually worked. But inevitably people I explained my job to would, the next time they saw me, ask: "How's NPR?"


"Um, I don't know, because I don't work there," I would think, snarkily.

Instead, I just smile and tell them all is well. Being a stickler for facts (professionally and personally) it still irks me a little. But if people are reading and/or listening to what we do, then great. (And if they donate money, all the better!)

NPR is just fine, thanks for asking.